The lineup for the 99th annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner (WHCD) released on Tuesday shows a cast that could bring back some comedic relief to journalists and correspondents amid a tense moment in the country.
Organized by the White House Correspondent’s Association (WHCA), the dinner will be hosted by actor and comedian Kenan Thompson, the longest-tenured cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” Hasan Minhaj — host of “Patriot Act” — will again serve as the featured entertainer. He also headlined during the 2017 WHCD.
“The dinner has a serious message, but we also believe it is as important as ever to be able to laugh — at ourselves, as well as at the people we cover,” ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl said in an email to the New York Times.
A contentious performance by comedian Michelle Wolf, who served as the featured entertainer in 2018, resulted in 2019’s divergence from the usually lighthearted mood – as historian Ron Chernow replaced comedian headliners. Now, in 2020, the laughs are back.
Thompson is the sixth African American entertainer and fourth comedian since the single entertainer era began in 1983. He follows in the footsteps of stand-up comedian David Adkins, known professionally as “Sinbad,” singers Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cedric the Entertainer, and comedian Wanda Sykes.
He is also the sixth SNL writer or cast member to host, as Conan O’Brien, Al Franken, Darrell Hammond, Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong also hosted between 1994 and 2015.
“Kenan and Hasan are two of the most engaged and engaging entertainers in America. I’m thrilled they’ll help us celebrate the role of a free press in our democracy,” Karl, also president of the WHCA, said in a press release. “We’re looking forward to a lively evening honoring the most important political journalism of the past year.”
The WHCA also announced a new partnership with Bob Bain Productions, which also produced events such as the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Teen Choice Awards, the Creative Arts Emmys, Miss America and the Trevor Noah stand-up specials, according to the association. The partnership will result in the replacement of the familiar yellow curtains with large screens during the beloved First Amendment celebration.
Slated for April 25, the dinner will feature two new awards in addition to the longstanding Aldo Beckman Award for Overall Excellence in White House Coverage and Merriman Smith Award for Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure: The Katharine Graham Award for Courage and Accountability and the Award for Excellence in Presidential News Coverage by Visual Journalists — honoring journalists for their role in ensuring accountability during a time when press freedom is under attack around the world.
This year’s WHCD will also include a presentation of the novel Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, administered by the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, recognizing outstanding statehouse reporting, according to the WHCA press release.
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While every president since Calvin Coolidge had attended the event, his contentious relationship with the news media has prompted President Donald Trump to boycott the event for the past three years.
His attendance to this year’s dinner remains in question.
This past year in political journalism saw relentless coverage of major events ranging from the upcoming 2020 elections to the recent impeachment trial.
“I’d argue that humor is more important now than ever,” Karl said.
The dinner serves as not only a celebration of the First Amendment, but also notoriously as a fundraiser for college scholarships.
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